Studentpreneurs: You Are Not Too Young to Start

Student entrepreneurship needs a mindset change. A good network can take you places. E-cells should not just be limited to IITs and IIMs


What do Paytm, Inshorts and OYO Rooms have in common? They are the few of the biggest names to come out of the Indian start-up ecosystem, and a closer look at these companies will tell you that they were all founded by studentpreneurs- young lads in their 20s. Vijay Shekhar Sharma started One97, Paytm’s parent company, when he was 22 while Ritesh Agarwal founded OYO at 19. Azhar Iqubal, Deepit Purkayastha and Anunay Arunav, the co-founders of Inshorts dropped out of IIT to start the company. Yes, all of them fall under the category of studentpreneurs.

India is one of the fastest-growing entrepreneurship hubs and enough and more student entrepreneurs are making a difference by building scalable businesses that last. A look at any ‘young entrepreneurs list’ will tell you that studentpreneurs is not an anomaly in India but rather an upward moving trend. According to Amway India’s Entrepreneurship Report, 75% of Indian youth want entrepreneurial courses to be included in the curriculum while 61% of them consider entrepreneurship as a good prospect to earn a livelihood in India. The report also revealed that ‘wealth creation’ is the most important incentive for students when it comes to choosing entrepreneurship. Amongst Indian states Gujarat, Punjab, Madhya Pradesh, Karnataka and Rajasthan ranked the highest on the state climate for entrepreneurship.

Nurturing young Indian start-ups is not only a great way to boost economic growth but also an opportunity for the country to move towards self-reliance and job creation. India is one of the youngest countries in the world and has a great potential to leverage the potential of next-generation entrepreneurs. Government-backed missions like ‘Atmanirbhar Bharat’ aim to do exactly that. Young India is gradually opening up to start-up culture as more and more graduates are now comfortable to ditch 9-to-5 jobs to take the plunge as an entrepreneur. And the success stories of these self-made millionaires go a long way in inspiring other young entrepreneurs to dream of making it large.

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75% of Indian youth want entrepreneurial courses to be included in the curriculum while 61% of them consider entrepreneurship as a good prospect to earn a livelihood in India.

- Amway India’s Entrepreneurship Report

Starting Young as Studentpreneurs

In simple terms, studentpreneurs can be defined as the next-generation entrepreneurs who believe in starting young, building scalable businesses, and driving social change while simultaneously pursuing their formal education. Learning the nuts and bolts of the industry at a young age not only helps them build a strong core as an entrepreneur but also starts preparing them for a lifestyle not considered to be an easy choice by many. Advait Thakur, the founder and CEO of Apex Infosys India and one of the youngest entrepreneurs in the world. A tech entrepreneur at 16, Thakur started exploring the world of computers when he was just six. Today, his company provides unique solutions for all IoT-related products and services, and works with Google, Bing and HubSpot, among others.

People like Thakur make entrepreneurship sound like a cakewalk. But the reality on the ground tells us a different story. Students like him are able to successfully take the leap of faith due to a host of reasons. One of them is getting a conducive ecosystem right in the beginning be it support from parents or educational institutes. Universities are increasingly opening up to the idea of students opting for entrepreneurship. While some colleges now have specialisations in entrepreneurship, others have in-house incubation centres or entrepreneurship cells to encourage students to experiment with their skills and make education more dynamic, wholesome, and future-ready. Students who lack these facilities in-campus, are investing in online courses and taking extra classes to learn more about starting a business and do’s and don’ts of entrepreneurship. This is why online education platforms like Byju’s and WhiteHat Jr are coming up with courses in coding, business management, to address this growing demand. For youngsters with a natural flair in these fields, there’s nothing like it.

These courses provide them with necessary skills and hands-on experience. But the catch here is that this journey cannot begin if one doesn’t have a mentor or a tutor. Universities can consider an option of opening entrepreneurship learning centers where students can be nurtured, like-minded people can meet and start-ups and value creation is encouraged. Established global universities like Oxford have a place for young entrepreneurs where mentors can inculcate an environment and productivity amongst students. Entrepreneurship not only allows students to be more independent problem solvers but also gives them a canvas to draw their ambition the way they like. Ideally, the mentors should be from the industry. It will help students build their network which they can leverage once they leave the university preparing them for their long-term goals.

Types of Studentpreneurs

Student entrepreneurs can broadly be divided into three categories. The first kind drop out of their universities once their businesses turn successful. Some examples of this  include WordPress founder Matt Mullenweg who dropped out of the University of Houston. The second kind include those who have formally taken up entrepreneurship as a course to study with a long-term aim of taking up entrepreneurship in the future. There are very few people in this category as very few universities offer a full-fledged course on entrepreneurship right now. The third group is a growing number. They include students who are running businesses simultaneously while still enrolled at their universities. Google’s Larry Page and Reddit’s Steve Huffman took this path. While there is nothing called a “safe bet” by the book in entrepreneurship, one can look at side gigs as an entry point into the field and then build on it once there’s enough clarity on what the building blocks of the business will look like. Many also choose to drop out and take a leap of faith. It depends on individual discretion and the kind of opportunities available at each growth stage.

Networking is the key

There’s an interesting story behind how the news app Inshorts got funding from what used to be a Facebook page. Its co-founders Azhar Iqubal and Anunay Arunav who went to IIT Delhi were a part of the same alumni network as Sachin Bansal and Binny Bansal of Flipkart fame. The word about the app reached the Bansal’s who downloaded, used it and later contacted Iqubal and Arunav with an investment offer. One of their Series A investors included Tiger Global which invested $4 million, which also happens to be an early investor of Flipkart. If there’s any lesson to be learnt here, it’s networking.

Successful entrepreneurship is all about being in the right rooms even it means the virtual ones. Online entrepreneurship groups like Startup Weekend, Wannapreneur To Entrepreneur, Young Entrepreneurs Tribe and 10000startups are already leading the way.

Annual events like the India IT show, an international B2B event in Hyderabad is one of the best platforms for networking and providing new businesses with an opportunity to showcase their core competencies to the right audience and expand their presence. Hyderabad has many other similar programs for young entrepreneurs in India. T-Hub, which is among the biggest start-up incubators in India, has launched a T-Tribe academic membership program to help student entrepreneurs develop their ideas. It is a one-year entrepreneurship platform at colleges and universities that have incubation or e-cells. They partner with colleges across the country and set-up T-Tribe centres for training and conducting workshops on entrepreneurship. TiE, a global platform to foster entrepreneurship has a local chapter in India, too. Aspiring entrepreneurs can be a part of it to leverage tons of virtual forums and networking opportunities.

The government is also trying hard to push entrepreneurship through its National Innovation and Start-up Policy 2019 for students. The institutions are required to allocate a minimum 1% of their total annual budget towards entrepreneurial activities, as per the policy. The allocated amount has to be allocated to fund and support innovations and start-ups through the creation of a separate ‘Innovation Fund’, the policy guidelines say. While the country still lacks a dynamic start-up ecosystem that can foster entrepreneurship amongst students, these regular meetup events and a policy push can prove to be a good starting point.

How to Start as Studentpreneurs?

College/School is one of the best times to nurture entrepreneurship. Take Ritesh Aggarwal, the founder of Oyo Rooms. He became the world’s second youngest billionaire in 2020. At the age of 13, he started selling SIM cards and by the time he was 19, he bunked college to start a venture with only 11 rooms in a Gurugram hotel. One of the reasons that motivated him to focus on this business was his own frequent experience of traveling. He observed that budget hotels were a huge gap in the market.

There are innumerable stories of young entrepreneurs making a difference today because they had a life-changing idea and a support system to execute it. One of the first steps to start thinking about entrepreneurship is to identify a problem and build solutions around it. A studentpreneurs can either take an easily doable idea and add value to it by identifying his/her unique selling point or build on an innovation that is never-seen-before for the industry. And then comes the questions around the sustainability and scalability of the model. It’s all about experimenting at this stage.

Connecting a start-up idea to social issues goes a long way in assuring the reachability of the company in the long run. To do this, students who are wannabe entrepreneurs need a strong mentor which is why schools and colleges should encourage setting up of innovation centres and students should also demand or establish one with the support of the authorities if it’s already not available. This will ensure that the future batches also get a well-established support system. College alumni groups can also arrange meetups and hackathons to encourage entrepreneurship amongst young minds.

Turbostart, a national business acceleration platform, for example, identifies the best start-ups in the country and empowers their founders to validate, scale and amplify their businesses. They aim to build a strong start-up ecosystem in the country by creating a support system for students. One of its incubate companies, Ken42has launched the StartNXT ideathon to find the best student entrepreneurs and give them access to one-on-one mentor sessions, operational support and networking opportunities.

In her doctoral thesis at Sydney’s University of Technology, Julien Marchand says that Youth entrepreneurship plays a significant role in job creation and the growth of the economy. “It also contributes to the overall life satisfaction and wellbeing of individuals. Youth entrepreneurship is an option to create employment for the youth,” she writes. I think this point is extremely significant especially at a time when the country is reeling under one of the worst economic crises of our times. Young entrepreneurs are a way to create new options of employment, innovative economic trends in high-growth segments, and introduce a culture of leading rather than following.

 

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It also contributes to the overall life satisfaction and wellbeing of individuals. Youth entrepreneurship is an option to create employment for the youth,

- Julien Marchand, Sydney University of Technology

Studentpreneurs and Scope

Mumbai’s Tilak Mehta was 13 when his company Papers N Parcels in order to ease courier services in Mumbai. What separates Mehta from his fellow mates who attended the same class 8 at a suburban school like him was his vision to innovate and understand the scope of his logistics start-up. He understood at a young age that scope for young entrepreneurship is immense in the Indian market. Sure, just like any other entrepreneurship, one would need skills like opportunity recognition, innovation, team work, persistence and leadership qualities. There is a unique advantage of being a studentpreneur: the time and the ability to take more risks. Having started earlier is something that most mature entrepreneur’s regret. Stakes for studentpreneurs are comparatively lower. They can experiment with starting something on the side while they’re still in college. Internship is also touted to be a great way to begin. Students can consider that as an entry point into the real world. 

Certain kinds of ideas like the ones that address a pain point of a local population will have a higher chance of success. Initially, students can explore funding options like crowdsourcing, asking the college authorities/community to help or learn under a mentor in another business. With the Government of India promoting programs like Start-up India and Aatmanirbhar Bharat, it’s good news for young Indian entrepreneurs interested in taking their ideas forward. The center has already released Rs 85,000 crore to encourage the young population to get into start-ups and boost the economy.

Many private companies, too, have programs to encourage entrepreneurship. FMCG major Nestle India, for example, recently announced an initiative to support entrepreneurs through its kiosk business model called ‘Nestlé Needs Youth’ where they would nurture entrepreneurs and create opportunities for them to operate franchisees under Nescafe, Maggi, KitKat which will be called NESCAFÉ Corner, MAGGI Hotspot and KitKat Break Zone respectively. Many other private companies like Target and Reliance now have full-fledged programs to encourage young entrepreneurs. 

Roadblocks with Studentpreneurs

The Global Entrepreneurship Monitor estimates that around 20% Indians between ages 18 and 64 intend to start a business in the next three years. For a population of more than 135 crore, this percentage should have been a lot bigger. One of the major deterrents in successfully realising the potential India’s young entrepreneurs is the mindset. There is still an unholy focus on tech education and a corporate job across the Indian society. In one of the recent incidents, online education platform WhiteHat Jr sold coding programmes to parents of children as young as 10. Many other platforms followed suit and had programmes called junior MBA for teenagers. While entrepreneurship should be encouraged from a young age but selling it as a property to lure innocent parents will do more harm than good. If Indian students are constantly under academic, financial and social pressure, they will lack the freedom of thought and action to join an ecosystem which is equally challenging. So, lack of support is a crucial issue, as far as Indian parents are concerned.

Another major roadblock is that many Indian schools still lack the basic infrastructure required for quality education. Which is why a majority of students are not aware about entrepreneurship opportunities. Right now, only premier institutes like IITs and IIMs have a conducive environment to nurture their inner entrepreneur. A favourable environment is utmost important to nurture entrepreneurial spirit. Why do you think that American start-ups are mostly founded by students from the same batch or a close-knit peer group? Colleges need to provide enough networking events for students so that they can easily get integrated into the world of start-up. Most colleges still lack the infrastructure and the encouragement required to kickstart the process. Entrepreneurship cells of BITS Pilani, National Institute of Technology, Tiruchirappalli, and IIIT Hyderabad, etc. are considered to be one of the most active in the engineering circuit. However, it’s a positive trend that e-cells are moving beyond IITs and IIMs, but these are mostly restricted to science colleges. There is an immense gap for humanities and other professional fields like law, journalism, bankers, doctors, etc. to start thinking of entrepreneurship as an option.

Studentpreneurs need to inculcate a feeling of being comfortable with failure as it is part and parcel of being in the start-up culture. Schools and colleges need to make a change in their mindset that failure might not be a bad thing. Only then will students be encouraged to experiment. Almost every successful start-up founder today has a trail of failed companies and regretful ideas but they would still swear by it. Studentpreneurs need to learn that failure is hardly a disappointing end but rather a new lesson in the process. Codeacademy’s founder Zach Sims’ first failed product was a company called ComeRecruit.us that matched students to potential companies they would want to work at. It didn’t do well but that didn’t stop him from giving a much bigger thrust while launching his next one. Many entrepreneurs say that starting a company during their studies was one of the best decisions they took. That is because it not only helps in one’s development as a young professional but also makes them future-ready to be comfortable with the road not taken. 

DU Desk
DU Desk
Stories from DU Desk are the collective efforts of our in-house authors, guest authors and subject matter experts who collate and distill their ideas and thoughts to bring out actionable insights for our readers.

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